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Master the Teacher Talk

I’ve never considered myself a helicopter parent. I don’t step in and force kids to play with my 8-year-old daughter so that she doesn’t feel left out. I don’t insist that my 5-year-old only participate in games in which “everyone’s a winner.” But when it comes to my children’s teachers at school, I admit I can hover with the best of them. I wonder about her credentials. Is she pushing my fragile babies a bit too hard — or not hard enough? Will she be offended if I send her 15 notes in one month (just to share a few of my ideas about education)? Will she understand all the nuances of my kids’ sweet and quirky personalities?

Parents like me can be a nightmare for teachers. But there is still hope for us, according to Beverly Pouncy, a counselor at Alex W. Spence Middle School in Dallas who has worked as an elementary counselor mentor. Pouncy says “overparenting” — constantly questioning the teacher’s methods, offering “suggestions” and interfering with lesson plans — can not only create a tense relationship between parents and school personnel that could carry on for the duration of the child’s time at the school, but it can also impede the child’s ability to succeed on her own. Read on to learn why parents like me should stop hovering and work with our children’s teachers to help our kids excel at school.

Choices and Consequences

Pouncy says children flourish when they are allowed to make choices and experience the school environment on their own.

“When you’re overprotective with your own child, you’re taking the independence away, instilling some self-doubt and allowing him to see that he can’t do things on his own,” she asserts. “You want your child to be resilient, and if you’re there to pick up after every failure, that’s not teaching them to be resilient.”

Students who are seen being coddled by their parents could also suffer consequences with their peers, from teasing to ostracism; suffer from stress because of their parents’ high expectations; or, says D’Nelle Lyons, a teacher in the Richardson ISD, leave school without the necessary problem-solving skills.

“Kids are not problem solvers; parents are in there solving their problems for them,” she says. “Kids are afraid of failure because they’ve never been allowed to fail. Kids need to know that they can fail and they can find different routes to take. When there’s a problem, that’s when you get creative. [Helicopter parents are] not allowing them to do that.

“Kids need to learn to fix their own problems,” she says. “Parents need to give support, but kids need to do the work.”

When There’s a Problem

Parents who find that they have recurring problems with their child’s teacher should try talking to the teacher before going to campus administrators.

“Parents should have a list of concerns written down,” Pouncy says. “Sometimes they come in and have so much that they want to say and when they leave, they say, ‘Oh I should have asked this!’ List your concerns.”

If the parent and teacher aren’t able to work out their differences, the district encourages a parent-teacher conference with the principal and school counselor in attendance.

“This way you’ll be able to see the whole picture,” she says. “When a parent is really upset and angry, we encourage the teacher to keep their calm. Address the problem and do it quickly. Moving the child is usually the last thing you want to do.”

Start the Year Off Right

Pouncy says parents should lay the groundwork for a positive teacher-parent relationship at the very beginning of the school year.

“Start off with parent meetings first,” she says. “This will help parents to establish their needs. A lot of parents come to school and feel inadequate and have a fear that they won’t be able to communicate with their child’s teacher. The whole staff tries to set a positive attitude so the parents feel welcome in the school.”

But keep in mind, Pouncy says: Make an appointment with your child’s teacher rather than showing up unannounced.

“Get to know the teacher, but set up a timeframe to meet,” she says. “Parents need to understand that teachers have a set schedule and are really busy.”

Sending an e-mail greeting to your child’s teacher at the start of the school year is another good way to introduce yourself, says Lyons.

Pouncy says parents who need help or advice as their children enter the school system should take advantage of their school’s counselors. Dallas ISD offers individual and group counseling for issues such as divorce, grief, social confidence building and academic concerns, she details. Parents must remember, Pouncy says, that the school system is on their side — and their child’s side.

“It’s a supportive, positive system that is there to work with the child,” she says. “The parent and teacher should work together as a team for the child’s best interest.”